Brian Jacobson
Deep-Fried Romantic

a Tamarack Grows in Milwaukee

By - Jun 30th, 2010 06:30 am

The spring buds of the tamarack via Wikimedia Commons.

Explicitly speaking, all trees are about equal in usefulness and splendor.

Implicitly speaking, some trees are prettier than others and make sturdier coffee tables. In other words, some trees have different caste values according to human standards.

Some trees are more beautiful than a poem. Others, we think, need to be torn down, shredded and pulped and made into greeting cards.

I’m wondering aloud this summer day about the Tamarack. The first thing the Internet is eager to tell you about Wisconsin’s native Larix Laricina is that the Algonquin Indians called it “Hackamatack.”

This is hilarious of course, since the neighborhood folk were probably having a bit of fun with the rubes wearing the coonskin caps. Those fur traders then murdered their native names for stuff, murdered the forests, and shaved down all the swampy cliffs to build things like the Grand Avenue Mall.

Tamaracks were plentiful on Jones Island, a place also rife with disregarded northern Poles called Kaszubes. These folk could have cared less what their Bay View neighbors thought of them. They went ahead frying fish and opening taverns until the cliff-dwellers took ferry rides to investigate the fun.

There are no more tamaracks on Jones Island. In fact, after they took down the ancient sick Willow tree that marked Milwaukee’s smallest park (Kaszube Park), the only green remaining are the young conifers planted as landscaping near the water treatment headquarters.

Lariz Laricina (Eastern Larch) via Wikimedia Commons

As far as I know (and I’m probably wrong), there are no more tamaracks in Milwaukee. At least, I can’t see the trees for the forest if they are around. I see plenty of Oak, Pine, Dutch Elm, Black Walnut, and so on.

Sure, there is a graded school and the memory of a scraggly downtown bar (anyone? anyone?) — but nary a sapling of this particular needly tree appears naturally on its own. They would appear obvious when fall came around. Perhaps the Urban Ecology Center has imported and planted one for their collection. But have you seen a giant one, around 30 years old? They’re crazy looking. You’d think we’d notice.

For the life of me, I can’t think of what people could hold against this tree. Sure, it’s not a high-class Seqouia or Redwood. It doesn’t have the artistic beauty of a row of Birch or Cedar. Tamarack bark and sap are of course good for you in many ways, something most forgot long ago, though they don’t make good Christmas trees (again with the yellow and the needles).

Photo courtesy MMSD and UWM Library archives.Here’s an interesting equivalent: let’s say city builders don’t like the sounds of robins going off at 5 a.m. So they shoot them all — before anyone could grow affectionate for them and declare them the state bird.

There is a potential National Hackamatack Wildlife Refuge under consideration in southern Wisconsin, in a 54-square mile area that covers parts of Walworth, Racine, and Kenosha Counties.

Oh yeah: half of it is in Illinois, marking the one occasion we are willing to share.

I said “SHARE,” Illinois! This isn’t Lake Geneva.

Okay, so here’s this week’s challenge: find me a full-grown Tamarack tree within city limits. I’m discounting the sample tree on Marquette’s grounds, and the swamp near Marcy Road and 92nd St. (too far away). I want to see a photograph of a non-planted, 15-year-old or older larch of the tamarack kind.

Okay, go.

0 thoughts on “Deep-Fried Romantic: a Tamarack Grows in Milwaukee”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Brian, the Tamarack tree is my favorite. I have one in my yard in Oconomowoc. I love to see the Tamaracks standing solitary in the sandy swamps of northern Wisconsin. These trees are beautiful in all seasons and no two look alike.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Dear Brian;

    I’d like to suggest that whether it was “planted” or not, a living tamarack is worth celebrating. We celebrate the one we walk by in the old Wanderer’s Rest cemetary–now called Lincoln, I think. The tamarack is on the north side, west half, and the cemetary itself is on the northeast corner of Burleigh and Appleton. (There are a lot of fine old trees there, slowly succumbing, with none being replanted.)

    Rebecca Ferguson

  3. Anonymous says:

    for a superb example of an old tamarack, visit the one just below “daffodil hill” at Boerner Botanical Garden in Whitnall Park. It’s exquisite.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Brian, there is a Tamarack tree in the front yard of the duplex on Cramer and Newport.

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